Scratch: The Ultimate DJ looks to borrow heavily (and intelligently) from the Guitar Hero and Rock Band style of play, with a note highway that melts off an on-screen LP, aping the interface from the already successful guitar god games. What Scratch hopes to improve upon is the Guitar Hero-style rock fantasy, adding improvisation and music personalization.
We got a chance to take a look at the game in action, along with its prototype controller, during a demo at 7 Studios.
Creative lead Dan Lerich guided us through our first Scratch: The Ultimate DJ experience, explaining that the game was born of his classical music training, his expertise in midi programming and Berklee School of Music education — plus a taste for live DJing.
While we initially thought the game's inspiration was grounded in games like Beatmania, PaRappa the Rapper and even a little bit of Wii Music (don't panic!), Lerich says he found a rhythm game model in Electronic Arts' Skate. The skateboarding game, Lerich says, was a diversion from the extreme sports model established by the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. In Scratch, as in Skate, the game allows the player to experiment, to improvise, to trick, to chain together combos, all of which is available to the player from the get go.
Lerich showed us some of this improvisation in one of the game's tracks, Gorillaz "Feel Good, Inc." While the majority of beat-matching follows a pattern similar to Guitar Hero or Beatmania, keying sounds from drum beats to bass tracks to vocals, there's an opportunity to pattern add. It was surprising to hear how natural those adds sounded—when they were on beat, mind you.
Those pattern adds can also mean big points, as you'll earn not just for successful beat matches, but for fills as well. Lerich says that the scoring on these fills is still being honed. Since the game has a competitive multiplayer mode, fill spamming is something the 7 Studios team is aware of.
Improvisation occurs in another of the Scratch's segments, as portions of the note highway will encourage turntable tricks, not just button presses. This is where the "chika chika fantasy" comes in, with some 15 to 20 tricks available on the controller's spinning wheel. The DJ will be able to throw in sounds from a pre-picked "battle record," which can be packed with custom beats, quirky sound effects or even custom-recorded sounds via a USB microphone.
That will not only add replayability, but personalization. As performances can be recorded (but not uploaded online) then reviewed, those outstanding spins at the DJ table can be customized, then fondly remembered for years to come.
Scratch's controller is still being finalized, but 7 Studios is doing it in partnership with Numark, maker of fine audio equipment and DJ accessories. It comes with five colored buttons, touch sensitive analog turntable wheel, and a crossfader switch. It's also been designed ambidextrously, so lefties needn't feel excluded.
Our brief time seeing Scratch: The Ultimate DJ was impressive. While the game may not be strikingly original—it has to compete with Activision's own attempt, DJ Hero, due later this year—it has credibility by association courtesy of Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike's input and a controller co-designed with turntable manufacturer Numark.
While pricing and final song selection is still being nailed down, 7 Studios is looking at following the pricing and SKU structure of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, hopefully resulting in an affordable, high quality package. We're anxious to go hands on with it when it ships sometime this Summer.